Too Often Habit Is the Frustrator

Along about this time of year we homeschoolers usually have a pretty good feel for what is working and what needs to be changed. Whether it is what time we get up in the morning, who does which subject when, or how we have the household chores assigned, we get to the point where we say, “I think this situation can be improved. Here is what I’m going to do; I will . . . .” And we determine to put our plan into practice the next morning.

Now, inevitably, as soon as we make that decision, we run up against a powerful force. This force works either as a supporter of our decisions or as an enemy against our decisions. This force is habit.

As Charlotte Mason put it, “Habit is either the ally or the opponent, too often the frustrator, of the will” (Vol. 1, p. 326).

A Help or a Hindrance

If habit is your ally in your decision, so much the better! When a good habit is in place, it can support you and help you accomplish your goal. For example, if you decide that you want to give your children more “meat” and less twaddle, that switch will be all the easier if you already have the habit of reading aloud to them every evening. You can simply insert a great book and you’re on your way. Good habits can be a powerful help!

But as Charlotte recognized, more often habit is the frustrator. To “frustrate” means to prevent someone from achieving something; to hinder her. Maybe you decide to do more meal planning so you don’t get caught befuddled and frazzled (with hungry, cranky children) ten minutes before supper time. But your bad habit of procrastinating rears its ugly head and becomes the frustrator; it hinders you from reaching your goal. What’s a person to do?

Turning Bad Habits into Good Ones

The first step to turning a bad habit into a good one is to stop focusing on the bad habit. The more you think about it, the more it will get stuck in your head. Instead, focus on the good habit you want to put in its place. Then follow these Charlotte-Mason-habit-training steps.

  1. Choose only one habit to work on at a time. The more habits you are trying to remember, the more your attention will be divided. Pick one to start with and focus on it.
  2. Do the new good action as often as possible. Repetition is a key to making an action automatic in your brain. Do it. Do it again. Every single time you possibly can.
  3. Feed your mind and heart with living examples in life and in books. If you know a person who already has that good habit in place, spend time with her. Read books, stories, and poetry that uphold that good habit and will inspire you to do likewise.
  4. Identify some natural consequences. What might be a bad consequence—one that is closely related to the habit and one that will motivate you? Also think of a good consequence or two—again, closely related to the new habit and motivating to you.
  5. Find someone to encourage you, someone who expects you to succeed and will cheer you on all along the way.

Follow these practical guidelines for a few weeks and soon you will have a new ally by your side. A new habit that will stand ready to support you. One that will help you, not frustrate you, in reaching your goals.